Wireless systems that operate on Wi-Fi routers are beneficial from a cost standpoint compared to radio frequency systems. According to Jason Bader, managing partner at The Distribution Team, Portland, wireless systems cost much less to implement because they do not require as much technical expertise as other systems. Installing a Wi-Fi router in a warehouse is much like installing one at home, which does not require the consultation of a professional technician.

“Generally with radio frequency, you have to bring in one of the manufacturers and they do a site survey and it is $3,000 just to have them do that,” Bader says. “With Wi-Fi, pretty much anyone with cursory knowledge of networking can do it.”

According to Bader, implementing a wireless system in a warehouse involves purchasing routers, which can cost between $50 and $150, placing them throughout the facility and connecting them to the existing Internet network. When implementing, a network administrator should be concerned with signal strength and some interference due to metal in the warehouse.

Wi-Fi networks are beneficial because they can be accessed by a wide array of hardware devices, not just traditional radio frequency handheld devices, which eventually will be out-of-date, says Bader. Distributors can even use smartphones and tablet devices to tap into the Wi-Fi systems, says Jon Schreibfeder, president of Effective Inventory Management, Coppell, Texas.

“Having the equivalent of iPads on forklift trucks, there are a lot of devices being used in the warehouse to provide wireless communication with the company’s computer system as well as the Internet to access data,” he says.

Consolidating Networks

When planning and implementing a Wi-Fi system, an enterprise may want to consider creating a wireless network throughout its entire facility. This can be beneficial on several fronts, including saving of space since ultimately it may cut down on the amount of paper the enterprise uses. One facility-wide Internet access system rather than a couple of different systems is also easier to manage from a network administrator’s point of view.

In addition, implementing one system for an entire facility can help ease the cultural pain that comes with change. Employees will have an easier time understanding how to access the Internet if there is one universal way, instead of separate logins depending on where they are in the facility.
A robust wireless system in the warehouse and throughout a distributor’s facility will help usher in a new technology era for the enterprise, in which the reliance on phone conversations and paper files and catalogs is decreased.

“If it’s going to help them do their jobs more effectively, then it is a great idea,” Schreibfeder says. “One of our goals is to do away with all of the bookcases that we still see of catalogs in so many offices. Do away with the phone calls to find out the price and availability. Do away with phone calls to find out if it is possible to ship to a certain location and, if so, what would it cost. All of these things can be done through the information available through Wi-Fi systems right now.”

Brendan O’Brien is a freelancer based in Greenfield, Wis. He is a frequent contributor to Sanitary Maintenance.